A Commentary (Jan 1931)
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[ 213 A Commentary The Criterion: A Literary Review, 10 (Jan 1931) 307-14 The Times informed us not long ago in a leading article (October 2nd), that “never in our history has there been such a period of popular education as the last year and a half.” It further rebuked Sir Martin Conway, who had beengrumblinginepistolaryformaboutthestateoftheConservativeParty, for regrettingtheextensionofthefranchise, byputtingforwardthe“irresistible contention that the framework of democracy would not be complete without” – without what? – without the young women of twenty-one.1 There are here two interesting problems to examine. One is the nature and value of this “popular education” so vastly and rapidly extended; the other is, what, now that this tasteful piece of joinery, the “framework of democracy,” is completed, is the character of the canvas to be found within it? What The Times means by “popular education” is not in this place clear; but we all know what the Press means by political education in general. It means that if we keep the Socialist Party in office until by practical experience , which means getting into plenty of hot water, and running heads against stone walls, and generally by having their minds addled by overwork and worry, the wretched Ministers are reduced to complete incompetence and harmlessness, then the Government will be wiser and sadder and exactly like any other Government.2 And it also means that during this period we shall keep pointing out all the Government’s mistakes to the People; so that the People, also sadder and wiser, will instal by acclamation a really good sound Government. Both assumptions appear to me to be wholly wrong, wrong both as principles and predictions. As principle, they imply that there is no principle except Caution; they deny that there are any fundamental moral divisions in politics, on which men are willing to fight to the end and to suffer and make others suffer. The ideal is the ideal of two parties, or even three, so far as all parties are exactly of the same practice in regard to everything that matters; they must however differ completely on a number of showy points that don’t matter; otherwise the newspapers would have nothing to write leading articles about, and the public would lose the fun of that most costly of sports – the Sport of Essays, Reviews, and Commentaries: 1931 214 ] Democrats – the General Election. It implies, in the end, a theory of politics which is by no means patented by The Times; which is nowadays the common property of most papers and most politicians of every stripe; which is indeed, by democratic blessing, the common property of every common subject and citizen; the view that politics has nothing whatever to do with private morals, and that national prosperity and the greatest happiness of the greatest number depend entirely upon the difference between good and bad economic theories.3 It is further more and more the opinion of the common man that his private morals, except when they infringe criminal law, are nobody’s business but his own – unless they bring him within the clutches of the scandal press. Private morals are not only private, but wholly negative. And on the other hand, so far as they are not private, they are made contingent upon economic conditions: so that we may conceivably have, in time, legislation framed to enforce limitation of families (bytheusualmethods)uponcertainpartsofthepopulation,andtoenforce progenitiveness upon others. With the applause of some of the clergy. It is not often that I find myself in anything but diametrical opposition to Mr. Middleton Murry; for which reason, when I find myself in accord with him, now and then, I attach some importance to the fact. It is true that when we agree upon principles, we usually find ourselves again in diametrical opposition as to their application: but this again is merely a confirmation of the principle. In the October number of The Adelphi in an essay on “Northcliffe as Symbol,” Mr. Murry says that the social disease is so radical “that there is only one real remedy – the slow regeneration of the individual man.” And he adds “the need of a new asceticism is upon us.”4 I do not like to read of things being “upon us” – so many things, we are told, are always “upon us”; but on this point I am in perfect accord with Mr. Murry. Surely, Mr. Murry and I will disagree again about what form this askesis should take; but that, for the moment, is...


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